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What the heck is blockchain anyway?

Blockchain is one of the many hyped up buzzwords of our times. Everywehre you go, people interject it into their talk and strategies or features. But what does it actually mean? And more importantly, as lawyers, what is the hype all about and should we be caring?

Dissecting blockchain seems to be the only way to understand it, because as soon as you venture into its constituent parts, intricately connected, there’s far more tech speak than any of us lawyers can pretend to muster. It feels a little like reading Latin in your first year of law or piecing together Roman law with our modern Constitution.

So what is blockchain, if one had to try and explain it in Human? It refers to a series of blocks, with each block presenting an individual transaction operating on an internet connected network, linked together by a series of rules. The rules are preprogramed and serve to govern the transactions that are automatically concluded between two peer groups (contracting parties) on the network  when the preprogramed rules are complied with, without the need for a central, “trusted” authority to render them valid.

The predetermined rules, known as consensus rules, manages the transactions and how the parties interact with each other and the transactions on the network by defining, when a transaction would be deemed valid, what the transaction costs would amount to, providing a mechanism by which transactions are validated (similar to a digital signature, password or biometric data) and lastly, the rules on changing the existing consensus rules.

Thus, holistically a blockchain represents a complete ledger of all transactions that have occurred over a series of time, starting with the first transaction known as the Genesis and each transaction concluded thereafter being added to the chain, linking up, as more transactions are undertaken and concluded, to provide for an ever continuing chain between two peers without a central, managing authority.

Blockchain not only offers the ability to store an immense amount of information, which is generally regarded as unmanageable, but also provides for the decentralised, independent verification of information without a central controlling body and for increased certainty as transactions, once they have been concluded are added to the blockchain and cannot be deleted, changed or tampered with unless all parties agree thereto and the consensus rules are amended. (Altman, 2018)

Blockchain holds significant potential in the changing legal landscape, especially in automating routine legal procedures and processes by way of smart contracts, comprised of scripted logic, terms and conditions which allow for automatic execution of basic contracts, such a the renewal of a lease agreement or conclusion of a non-disclosure agreement, which does not require human oversight or negotiations.

With smart contracts, blockchain also creates the potential for the automatic transfer of assets between participants on the peer to peer network where the preprogramed (conveyancing) rules and regulations are complied with, without the need for a controlling, central deed of registries to validate the transfer of ownership, saving time and costs and allowing for easier transfers and better customer relations. Blockchain further offers significant value to the legal field in terms of the immense amount of information it can store, recording pervious legal matters, transactions and events over a long period of time such as irrefutable intellectual property claims or criminal charges and providing legal firms with the opportunity to discover hidden evidence or contradictions that could assist in winning legal argument. (The Legal Executive Institute , 2019) (Altman, 2018)

Now the question is – have you actually ever seen a smart contract? Is this all fiction or is it real?

Join the Futures Law Faculty on 4 July at 5pm at the Inner City Ideas Cartel to delve into this hyped up technology to uncover the truth.

The Presenters:

If there’s one expert in South Africa, it’s Tanya Knowles, Faculty Member of Singularity University and Chairperson of the South African Financial Blockchain Consortium (SAFBC) which is comprised of over 50 members including the country’s largest banks, financial institutions, regulators, consulting and legal firms and start-ups. Tanya has been internationally recognised as one of the leading women in blockchain technology.

Tanya will be joined by Adv Jackie Nagtegaal, a futurist and legal professional that has conducted research into the application of blockchain and legal practice. She will contextualise Tanya’s finding to the legal fraternity and show examples of application from around the world.

 

Get your ticket here. 

 

Environmental Scan: Digital Revolution & Law

To understand the affect of the 4th Industrial Revolution on the practice of law, a scan was conducted on the current trends taking shape in the legal ecosystem.

The following guiding questions were used as a departure point to initiate the scan:

  • How is the industrial revolution shaping our concept of legal rights?
  • Who are the role-players and how are they adopting technology?
  • Where has the funding for legal technology coming from?
  • Is technology enhancing service or changing service?
  • What regulation is in place to enhance or hinder development?
  • What do these questions look like through the STEEP lens?

These aspects were considered globally, and then brought back to focus locally in South Africa. This brings an interesting dynamic to the scan; while the world converges as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the legal systems are still territorial, in application and approach. Due to the different trajectories of growth geographically, the future seems to be happening in different time zones, which corresponds to our understanding, adoption and application of legal rights and how the law is practiced.

Download it here: How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Shaping the Practice of Law

Books for Future Lawyers

Books For Future Lawyers: 5 Must-Reads to Understand the Future of Law

We love to read; in fact, we’re pretty fanatical about it. The more we read, the wider our understanding of the possibles of tomorrow. If you want to open some windows to the future, we’ve put together our favourite books for future lawyers. These are the books that stand out at the moment, and we simply couldn’t put them down, they’re gripping and shine a light on compelling possible futures. We believe you can’t only read about the future of law; you have to have a broader understanding of the future world, which will help you embed your understanding of how the law evolves within this world.
1. Rebooting Justice: More Technology, Fewer Lawyers, and the Future of Law by Benjamin Barton and Stephanos Bibas

 

If there is one concise book on future possibles in the world of law, this is it. Although it focuses on the American justice system, the trends and solutions are universal.
Rebooting Justice presents a novel response to longstanding problems. The answer is to use technology and procedural innovation to simplify and change the process itself. In the civil and criminal courts where ordinary Americans appear the most, we should streamline complex procedures and assume that parties will not have a lawyer, rather than the other way around. We need a cheaper, simpler, faster justice system to control costs. We cannot untie the Gordian knot by adding more strands of rope; we need to cut it, to simplify it. Get it here.
2. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

 

This book is a brilliantly digestible account of the velocity of change and the implications the digital revolution presents us with. As we’re optimists, we love this book for its focus on the possibility of a better world and bounty for all. 
In The Second Machine Age MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee―two thinkers at the forefront of their field―reveal the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realise immense bounty in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and near-boundless access to the cultural items that enrich our lives. Get it here.
3. The Future is Asian by Parag Khanna

 

One thing the West tends to do, is think of their system as the world. With Khanna’s book, your mind opens to the reality that 5 billion people live in the new Asian territory. What does this mean for the practice of law?
The “Asian Century” is even bigger than you think. Far greater than just China, the new Asian system taking shape is a multi-civilizational order spanning Saudi Arabia to Japan, Russia to Australia, Turkey to Indonesia—linking five billion people through trade, finance, infrastructure, and diplomatic networks that together represent 40 percent of global GDP. China has taken the lead in building the new Silk Roads across Asia, but it will not lead it alone. Instead, Asia is rapidly returning to the centuries-old patterns of commerce, conflict, and cultural exchange that thrived long before European colonialism and American dominance. Asians will determine their future—and as they collectively assert their interests around the world, they will determine ours as well. Get it here. 
4. Like a Thief in Broad Daylight by Slavoj Žižek

 

We’re devoted readers of Žižek and his latest book shines a light on big tech and the crumbling systems we’ve built. A fascinating read on our politics and the governments we continually try to protect.
In recent years, techno-scientific progress has started to transform our world – changing it almost beyond recognition. In this extraordinary new book, renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek turns to look at the brave new world of Big Tech, revealing how, with each new wave of innovation, we find ourselves moving closer and closer to a bizarrely literal realisation of Marx’s prediction that ‘all that is solid melts into air.’ With the automation of work, the virtualisation of money, the dissipation of class communities and the rise of immaterial, intellectual labour, the global capitalist edifice is beginning to crumble, more quickly than ever before and it is now on the verge of vanishing entirely. Get it here. 
5. Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future by Richard Susskind

 

This is an older book, we felt we had to include. Published in 2013, it still holds up. It’s a thin concise read that anyone should read if they are interested in the future of practice by one the leaders in the field.
Tomorrow’s Lawyers is a definitive guide to this future–for young and aspiring lawyers, and for all who want to modernise our legal and justice systems. It introduces the new legal landscape and offers practical guidance for those who intend to build careers and businesses in law. Susskind identifies the key drivers of change, such as the economic downturn, and considers how these will shape the legal marketplace. He then sketches out the new legal landscape as he envisions it, highlighting the changing role of law firms-and in-house lawyers-and the coming of virtual hearings and online dispute resolution. He also suggests solutions to major concerns within the legal profession, such as diminishing public funding, and explores alternative roles for future lawyers in a world increasingly dominated by IT. And what are the prospects for aspiring lawyers? Susskind predicts what new jobs and new employers there will be, equipping prospective lawyers with penetrating questions to put to their current and future bosses. Get it here. 

Have you read any of these must-read books for future lawyers? Share your thoughts with us! To learn more about more about the future of law, attend one of our insightful Learning Experiences.